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Text of a talk I delivered in sacrament meeting on Sunday, April 9, 2005 in the Charlotte Michigan Branch of the Lansing Michigan Stake. 

Good morning, brothers and sisters!  I would like to begin my talk by sharing with you a story that Elder Boyd K. Packer told at the October 1995 General Conference:

immigrant womanSo many are like the immigrant woman who skimped and saved and deprived herself until, by selling all of her possessions, she bought a steerage-class ticket to America. She rationed out the meager provisions she was able to bring with her. Even so, they were gone early in the voyage. When others went for their meals, she stayed below deck——determined to suffer through it. Finally, on the last day, she must, she thought, afford one meal to give her strength for the journey yet ahead. When she asked what the meal would cost, she was told that all of the meals had been included in the price of her ticket. (The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness, Ensign Nov. 1995)

Indeed, our loving Heavenly Father planned, from the very beginning, before this world was even created, that our journey to earth would not be a one-way trip for any of us and that, if we chose him our Father, our separation from him would not have to be permanent.

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What was needed to make Heavenly Father’s Plan of Salvation work was a Messiah – an individual chosen and set apart before the creation of this world to be a sacrifice for sin; someone who loved us enough to freely lay down his life in exchange for rescuing and redeeming the lives of the rest of us.  His sacrifice would therefore pay for the necessity of the Fall of Man and, on conditions of our repentance, pay for our individual sins, thereby opening the door for our return to God.  In that eternal council in the premortal existence, Heavenly Father chose Jesus to be the Messiah.  This is why Jesus Christ is called the Lamb Slain from the Foundation of the World.  Before the foundation of the world, He freely offered to take upon himself the role of our Savior and  indeed, was a sinless sacrifice for us, demonstrating in his life, death and resurrection, the abiding truth of Heavenly Father’s love for us.

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In John 18:37, Christ bore testimony of the same:
To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.  Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.

So many ask, as did Pilate in the next verse, “What is the truth?

happyeveadamAdam and Eve knew what the truth was.  In Moses 5:10-12 we read,  And in that day, Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying, Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.
    And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying, Were it not for our
transgressions we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.
    And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God and they made all these things known unto their sons and their daughters.

 

adamevesacrificeWhat happiness, what joy, what food to the soul it must have been for Adam and Eve to have known these truths – these truths which freed and fed their souls on a daily basis!  What strength and courage it must have given them to be able to see the personal meaning behind the Atonement, and to feel the love of God filling their hearts and minds with the knowledge that they and their posterity were of such infinite worth to merit the deep and personal love and sacrifices of God the Father and God the Son.

Why else would Lucifer have been so alarmed?  As we read in the next verse,
And Satan came among them, saying, I am also a son of God; and he commanded them saying, Believe it not; and they believed it not and they loved Satan more than God.  And men began from that time forth to be carnal, sensual and devilish.

 

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Whenever I read this verse, I am astounded at how simple it was for Lucifer to take away that which would have sustained the children of men from that time until this.  All Satan had to say, to take it all away, was “Do not believe it.”  Don’t believe that your meals on this trip home are already paid for.

The Atonement offers each child of God two great gifts: Universal resurrection, otherwise known as salvation, and, to those who desire it, remission of sins and the opportunity to live the sort of life that God lives, otherwise known as eternal life.

sheepandgoats

Do we believe it?  Do we really believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved temporally?  Do we believe that as many as will may also be saved spiritually, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel?

I have discovered in my own life, that I don’t know that I believe any principle of the Gospel until I either experiment upon it, and find out the truth for myself OR if the Lord, in his tender mercies,  tests my faith so that I might know for myself what he already knows about me and what I believe.  For me, this is what happened with the Atonement.

broken
At the age of 24, I found myself in miserable life circumstances, especially emotionally.  I felt like a shattered and ruined person, and that my life was essentially over before it had even begun.  I had made so many mistakes, the greatest of these being those which led to a marriage that I had never really wanted in my heart of hearts.  I felt like both the betrayer and the betrayed, and was sure that if God had not already done so, that I deserved to be abandoned and left to the most bitter fate and punishment he could find.  At that time, I did not believe that Heavenly Father was a loving God, and I especially did not believe that He loved me, for how could he love someone as terrible as I was?

One day I was browsing through a Deseret Book catalog and kept feeling drawn to purchase a particular musical CD called “The Garden”.  I had no idea why.  I was not particularly “in” to religious music, and yet I felt a need to have that album.  So I finally bought it, just to get that nagging feeling to go away.

When it arrived in the mail, I quickly realized that it was a musical play.  There was a gut feeling that I couldn’t share this with my spouse, who tended to mock spiritual things.  It was something meant just for me, for my full time and attention were required – it was not something to be listened to in snippets.

thegarden

A day came where I found myself in the uncommon situation of being alone, and I decided to listen to “The Garden”.  I soon realized that this story was a play about the creation and purpose of the world, and a play about the life’s mission of the Savior.  The story built up, song after song, until it arrived at Gethsemane. So many characters were singing, everything was in a whirlwind of emotion, and yet one line seemed to strike into my heart like lightening: “His pain is flowing like a river! Why doesn’t he get up and leave here?

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It had never occurred to me before that Jesus could have left, could have quit, could have decided it was too much, that I, me, you, all of us, were not worth the price.  I sat there, on my kitchen floor, and wept.  Until that moment, I had not believed –  I don’t think, in all my life, that  I had even comprehended that Jesus really loved me and loved me enough to suffer and die for me. I look back on this experience, in, of all humble places, a common kitchen, on the floor, as one of the great turning points in my life. I began to put my heart into the work I was doing with my Bishop, and, he, in turn, was given the insight to correct false beliefs that I had learned throughout my life.

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For example, even though I was raised in the Church, I had always mourned and regretted that I could not be rebaptized, for I felt that 8 years old had been too soon to really know what I was doing, and once I did realize the significance of that covenant, it was too late – I had sinned too much again.  I didn’t know, until Bishop taught me, that every Sunday when I worthily partook of the sacrament and renewed my covenants with all sincerity of heart, it was as if I really was being rebaptized… that I was just as clean, again, as I had been as an 8-year-old little girl.  The sacrament began to have a powerful effect on my life,  because, for the first time, I really understood it.  My belief in the efficacy of the sacrament is what made it efficacious. Still, there were things I could not fix.  Amends that I had no power to make, no matter what I could do, and these were the things that tortured me.

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Around this time, I saw a movie, called “The Spitfire Grill” about a girl named Percy Talbot who had been in prison but was released on parole into a community of her choosing.  It was a very small town, called Gilead, and turned out to be a very, very judgmental community.  All they knew about her was that she was an ex-convict, and that was all they saw.  I felt very much like Percy- so many people both at Church and in the community, knew what I had done and judged me for it.

There is a scene in Spitfire Grill where Percy is sitting up on a grassy hill, singing a song which goes,

There is a Balm in Gilead, that makes the wounded whole. 
There is a Balm in Gilead that heals the sorrowing soul.”

You then understand why she chose the city of Gilead, and why she was so disappointed.  For she had found no healing there.

whereisgilead

I had never heard this song before, and went on a hunt on the Internet to find it.  Late one night, sitting in front of my computer screen, I did find the Balm of Gilead, but it was not the song that I had expected.

boyd-k-packer-large
It was a talk by an apostle of the Lord, Boyd K. Packer, called “Balm in Gilead.” I learned then that Balm in Gilead is one of the names for Jesus Christ.

Quoting Apostle Packer, (The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness, Ensign Nov 1995)
The thought that rescued Alma, when he acted upon it, is this: Restoring what you cannot restore, healing the wound you cannot heal, fixing that which you broke and you cannot fix is the very purpose of the atonement of Christ. When your desire is firm and you are willing to pay the “uttermost farthing,” the law of restitution is suspended.  Your obligation is transferred to the Lord.  He will settle your accounts.  I repeat, save for the exception of the very few who defect to perdition, there is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no apostasy, no crime exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness.  That is the promise of the atonement of Christ.

Repentance comes in pieces, in stops and starts, and baby steps.  There are times when it will be required of you to walk in darkness, as Lehi did in his vision of the Tree of Life, before the guidance and light come.  I have learned that God will also test you, sometimes severely, to prove you – so that both you and He will know that what once was a stumbling block has now become a stepping stone.  But if there is one thing that I know, more than anything else, it is that repentance comes only in and through the Atonement of Jesus Christ… and that when God promises anything, He means what he says.  The greatest thing that can stop us from receiving that which we would most desire from Him, and which He most desires to give us, is simply not believing Him enough to use what He has given us: the Atonement of Christ.

When there is something that we really want to learn, or understand, and we ask of the Lord, He will answer our prayers and teach us of that which we desire to know in ways that speak to us personally – in ways that we can understand.

In the winter of 2003, I was struggling not only to understand what the Atonement meant in my life, but to accept it, because I still wasn’t feeling worthy enough to fully receive it.  Again, I did not really, fully believe that he could extend his great love unto one such as I.  It was incomprehensible to me how I could possibly be loved so much, for I had never felt such love at any time during my life, and what I had thought was love had not been love, so how could I even trust myself?

shovelingI had a meeting one night at the Church, and when I arrived, I realized that the parking lot had not been plowed.  Another sister was there, my friend Kathie, and we cheerfully decided to take upon ourselves the mission of shoveling the parking lot out for those who were coming after us.  The snow was at least 6 inches high, and heavy, but we shoveled out first once space and then another, shovelful by grueling shovelful, and then, when that was done, we kept on chugging on up the driveway and out to the road.

We were just finishing there when another sister arrived.  To my greatly surprised dismay, she chose, instead of parking in one of the lots that we had cleared, to park her car in the deep snow in a part of the lot  where we had not yet shoveled.  In frustration, I threw down my shovel, turned to Kathie, and yelled, “How like the Atonement!!!  Is this how Jesus feels? Arrrrrgh!!”  My friend, knowing of my struggles, just smiled at me and remained silent, wisely letting  this lesson sink in on its own merits.

Later in the week, when I was reading the scriptures, I came upon a verse in Alma, and remembered this personal parable of the snow shovel.  Alma 37:46 reads,  “O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way, for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us.  The way is prepared, and if we will look, we may live forever.

a-tractor-continues-in-the-effort-to-move-snow-from

Sometimes it is still a struggle for me to trust in the Lord, and trust in the Atonement.  I find that I am most unhappy when I forget and fear, instead of remembering and believing.  I believe it is no coincidence that our prophet has oft repeated the scripture, “Be not faithless, but believing.”

I don’t want to be like that woman on the boat, starving for what already has been provided, for the rest of my life!  Even if that sometimes means making myself come to the table, surprised every time that I receive, I know by whom I am fed.  Isaiah 55:1-2 reads, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? And your labor for that which satisfieth not?  Hearken dilligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.

I cannot look at my dear husband Jeff, or at my brand-new life here in Charlotte, nor recall our pure and loving courtship, or the sacred day of our eternal marriage, or see the smiling faces of my children looking up at Jeff, or look down at the miracle of my pregnant belly without standing before you as a witness of the goodness and tender mercies of the Lord.

nauvoo2007

2007

Jeff and I have often borne witness to each other that Jesus did all of this.  So much of what we have and share with one another has come as a direct result of our choice to believe in and apply the Savior’s atoning power.  Believe it or not, I think I am finally getting used to this fatness of the soul.  It is a strange thing to be able to feast when all you are used to is starvation, and even stranger to let go of the fear  that all of this joy is going to fade away.

God’s love IS everlasting and can remain with us always! King Benjamin taught his people how to this can happen in Mosiah 4:11-12 “And again, I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or have known of his goodness, and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves, even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel.

And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall ALWAYS rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and ALWAYS retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true.”

ours

2017

In closing, I would like to read to you the lyrics from my favorite song from the CD, “The Garden”, and bear testimony to you, once again, that the Atonement is real, that Jesus Christ lives, and that each one of us are infinitely precious and beloved by our Savior and our Father in Heaven.  The song is called “The Man with Many Names.”

There is One who to this garden comes
Like a most unusual rain-
Drink it in and never thirst again;
Living Water is His name

There is One who comes to find each one
Who has lost his way again.
He will lead the way back to the fold;
The Good Shepherd is His name

There is One who, when you’re crying’s done
Gives the gifts you’ve never known.
He’ll give fruit because He is The Vine
And Life, for He’s The Living Stone.

He is known by, oh, so many names,
And will be forevermore.
Hope comes from the One with many names
And He’s not forgotten yours.
No, He’s not forgotten yours.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen

Going As A Lamb

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